As we watch our world’s nations at COP26 pledge to take action to save our environment, and humanity with it, I am filled with a heady mix of hope and alarm. My hope is that the 26th time's the charm. But my alarm is that whilst the rates at which our sea levels and our planet temperatures are rising, greenwashing is rising even faster. Trust has been undermined to such an extent that to make progress we need to find our way out of corporate quicksand before we even get started.
Our climate emergency effects more and more of our lives, it has become critical that we are able to substantiate claims of environmental action taken in relation to the products and services we are buying. Corporate greenwashing is rife, and with the new normal being to print a narrative first, and verify it later, if at all, it is getting harder and harder for the public and civil society to distinguish fact from fiction.
It is the nature of the “old business as usual” to maximise shareholder value and to not share the evidence of our actions in order to minimise risk. Consequently our regulatory environments have enabled the rapid growth of increasingly more dysfunctional companies. Dysfunctional companies act like psychopaths.
But there are far more ethical businesses than bad ones. We as leaders, as businesses must adhere to our own as yet unspoken hippocratic oath. To first do no harm. But also to do more good. So how do we, as good business leaders, do that?
For businesses, there is an awful lot of focus on ESG reporting, but we’re all still finding our way on what that actually means, and what constitutes meaningful, impactful reporting. And there is a herd of elephants stampeding our boardrooms, our back offices and our shop floors: reporting actions without evidence is not transparency; it’s an exercise in public relations.
I’ll go further.
There is no accountability without transparency. There. I said it. Secrecy and politics may hold hands in the dark but it has no place in the world we need to create. We have repair work to do, to fix the half-truths and alt-facts. So what can ethical businesses do about it?
Whatever our nations’ governments pledge, it will be our cities and our businesses that will have to deliver. so my simple #DoNoHarm challenge to business leaders is to:
- look at the corporate behaviours we need to encourage to #savetheworld, and what we’re trying to discourage
- identify the data you expect to be shared by your peers to verify their behaviours (both financial and non-financial indicators)
- share that data for your own organisation freely for outside scrutiny (lead by example)
- ask your suppliers to do the same #InspectNotExpect
So that any action reported can be evidenced and built upon. Our governments can only plan in 3-4 year cycles. But businesses can act beyond those cycles for the long term.
Then #DoMoreGood: we can start on home ground...literally
Once we’ve established transparency, taking meaningful action becomes much easier.
Write, borrow or steal a climate action plan. Make it fit. Share your (evidenced) actions and your SMART goals publicly. Hold your peers to account for their plans, and be accountable to them and anyone else who cares for achieving your own. Be honest about the challenges. Ask for help and support when you need it. Rinse and repeat.
And for those who want to (literally) get their hands dirty our Government has set the 2042 woodland target for England at 180,000 hectares. It may come as a surprise to many who are wondering where that land can be found, but as it turns out, corporates own more than enough land suitable for afforestation to hit and exceed that target. Those corporates are either your buyers or suppliers, and many are not aware of the collective impact they can have. Contact and offer help. Your employees might also want to get in on the action. Provide and call for evidence.
I know in my heart and in our balance sheets that business can set the standard where it needs to be to achieve lasting change.
We can make the business of nature profitable for all.